Ratha Yathra, also called “Rathjatra”, is a Hindu chariot festival held every year in the Indian town of Puri, and a public holiday in two states. Gigantic throngs of religious pilgrims arrive to witness the journey of three chariots from Shri Mandir to the Shri Gundicha Temple in Puri.
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The festival takes place according to the Hindu Calendar, but on the Gregorian Calendar, it normally falls sometime within the month of June or July.
The pilgrims follow the chariots on the journey. Each chariot is conceived of as the body in which the souls of three Hindu gods are thought to ride. This is then compared to the idea of letting one’s wisdom direct one’s mind and thinking in life. And those who go on pilgrimage to Ratha Yathra are supposed to be able, in virtue of their attendance at the festival, to find their way to heaven after death.
The chariots travel around two miles on a particular street in Puri, stay for nine days at the temple, and then return to Shri Mandir.
The celebrations include a “cleansing of the road” ceremony, where there is much drum-pounding as the street is swept clean by a broom with a gold handle and sprinkled with special holy water. Ratha Yathra is among the oldest festivals of its kind in all India and the world, and it is a much anticipated event by millions of Indian Hindus.